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Rwanda Tells AU Congo Soldiers Will Not Be Attacked

Rwandan President Paul Kagame has reassured the African Union that Congolese soldiers will not be attacked during a planned two-week operation against Rwandan Hutu rebels in the east. The United Nations says there is mounting evidence the incursion has already begun.

Rwanda's President Paul Kagame says in a letter to the African Union that his country is planning a two week operation to target Rwandan Hutu rebels in Eastern Congo, but there is growing evidence Rwandan troops have already crossed the border.

The letter, written on November 25 and seen by VOA, reassures the African Union and the United Nations that Rwandan forces will not attack Congolese troops and will leave as soon as their operation was completed.

Kigali argues that it has the right to enter Congo to hunt down Hutu rebels, many of whom took part in the 1994 Rwandan genocide, killing some 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus before fleeing into Congo's thickly forested east.

Many rebels have returned home peacefully, but about 10,000 did not, and they are now being accused by Rwanda of using eastern Congo as a staging ground for attacks on Rwanda. The government of Rwanda accuses Congo and the United Nations of failing to disarm the rebels, and claims it has the right to do so before the rebels attack.

While in eastern Congo, the rebels have been used by the government in Kinshasa to fight against Rwandan-backed uprisings in Congo. Rwanda believes that the rebels want to return home by force, but the rebels say they are merely seeking dialogue with the government in Kigali.

While the rebels have launched sporadic attacks on Rwanda, many analysts say they do not believe the rebels pose a serious threat to Rwanda's security forces. The international community has been strongly critical of Rwanda's repeated threats to send troops into Congo.

A spokesman for the U.N. mission said Thursday that it has compelling evidence the Rwandan army has already crossed into Congo with soldiers carrying new weapons and wearing fresh uniforms. The United Nations said earlier this week its observers saw a group of about 100 soldiers suspected of being Rwandans, but the mission said it is still waiting for confirmation.

At a news conference in Kigali Thursday, Rwanda flatly denied having any soldiers in Congo, although at an earlier briefing for diplomats, the government reportedly admitted sending special forces across the border.

Meanwhile, U.N. aid workers say several thousand civilians have already been registered as newly displaced, following attacks on the Rwanda rebels in eastern Congo. The displaced civilians say that thousands more are on their way to transit sites in North Kivu province.

It is not clear who was responsible for the attacks. But they are reported to have taken place in the same area where, according to a Congolese minister, the Rwandan army is operating.

Rwanda has twice sent its army into Congo, ostensibly to hunt down the Hutu rebels. The second invasion in 1998 was one of the triggers for Congo's five-year war, which sucked in five neighboring countries and killed some three million people.